Archive for the 'Essays' Category

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator J. Chester Johnson, whose new memoir is Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation (Pegasus).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider your own family’s leanings when it comes to filiopietism, that veneration, often excessive, of ancestors or tradition. Does this exist in your own circle of relatives? Do people excuse behaviors because it’s just how the family has always been? Do you have beliefs based largely on what you were raised to think but have never questioned? Are there, even,  certain artifacts hidden away in your home that you keep simply because they belonged to a great grandfather or grandmother? If so, think about why you keep them, why you believe what you believe, why you cling to what you cling to, what you might shed of your family’s past if you could (or what you would not), and then write about it.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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American academic and political advisor, Stanley "Huck" Gutman, who writes a newsletter about poetry which is distributed by email and through the UVM listserv, "Poetry."

See below for links to pages featuring some of the works that Huck and I discuss during the interview. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Huck Gutman, who writes:

The surprising subject of many, many poems of the past two hundred years has been the need to pay attention to what is right in front of us, of what is so ‘ordinary’ that we look at it, through it, but don’t see it.  In some sense, our lived reality is invisible to us; in our habitual movement through our lives, we don’t pay attention to what is actually there in front of us and around us.

So as a writing prompt, I would suggest writing about something right in front of you that you don’t normally ‘see.’  For many, this is an object; for some, like Wordsworth, it is a person who seems ordinary but who has that amazing spark that is the emblem of life. 

 Among the life of ordinary things is where our existence takes place.  A poem can recognize that in the ‘ordinary’ are the things that make our world our world.  Write about such a thing.  (If you want to see what this looks like, lots of William Carlos Williams poems do this; so do a lot of poems by Elizabeth Bishop; so do the remarkable ‘Odes’ to common things that Pablo Neruda wrote in the later years of his life…) (For ‘ordinary’ people, there is Wordsworth; there is always that superlative writer – though not a poet – Anton Chekov. )

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Works Discussed:

Paul Celan, "Once" 

T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

Zbigniew Herbert, "Five Men"

Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"

Stevie Smith, "Not Waving But Drowning"

Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning"

Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself 47 "

C.K. Williams, "Jew On Bridge"

William Carlos Williams:

"Calypso II"

"This is Just to Say"

"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

William Wordsworth, Extracts from the Prelude: [Ascent of Snowdon]

Paul Zimmer, "A Romance for the Wild Turkey"

 

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A conversation with Vermont author Ginny Sassaman, whose new book is Preaching Happiness: Creating a Just and Joyful World (Rootstock).

For a Write the Book Prompt, write about what has made you happy in the past week.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

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An interview from the archives with the author Ann Patchett about her essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper Perennial). 

Recent impeachment coverage has me remembering that, when I was nine years old, Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings were on the television every afternoon, pre-empting my cartoons. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a child’s perspective on some contemporary political moment.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A new interview with the author Douglas Glover about his  collection of essays on literary form, The Erotics of Restraint (Biblioasis). 

When Douglas Glover and I spoke, he mentioned that, as he was developing his craft, he would make lists of conflicted situations in a notebook. Then, when he wanted to begin a new project, he'd read through his notebook to find a promising conflicted situation with which to start. He doesn't know what the plot will be as he begins, but he does still always know the conflict. This week, make a list of conflicts from which you might draw an interesting situation to use in your writing.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Emily Arnason Casey, whose debut essay collection is Made Holy

(Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Emily Arnason Casey, during our live conversation. It's one she's used in a recent class: write about a place you can't return to. See if you can find an object in that landscape of memory that gives you some direction or shapes your understanding of that place.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author Jane Alison, whose latest is Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative (Catapult). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jane Alison, who led a workshop recently that was studying Grace Paley’s story “Distance.” A phrase in the story includes the words, “the picture in the muck under their skulls…” Jane loved this line. She says we all have such pictures “in the muck under our skulls” - those moments that have formed or deformed us, that haunt us. Maybe places we want to return to, or moments that will not leave us. So this week, think if there’s some moment or image from your recent or long-ago past, a deeply imbedded thing that can still glimmer before your eyes, or make you feel homesick, or has a mysterious potency to it. A moment that could become an important part of a story about your life, or perhaps part of a story that you would invent about someone like you. Write about it, and let its magnetism lead you as you work. See what comes out of the muck.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author and Musician Tony Whedon, whose essay collection Drunk In the Woods (Green Writers Press) was recently nominated for the Vermont Book Award.

I announced this week's "official" Write the Book Prompt after the broadcast's first interview, with Megan Price, but here's another: find a recording of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (which Tony mentions in one of the poems read in this interview). Here's one. Play it. Turn it up, play it again. Don't like jazz? Don't be ridiculous. Turn it up and play it again! Sit down and write. See what happens. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion! (Now play it again!!!) 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Live, in-studio interview with Vermont author and UVM faculty member Emily Bernard, with her new book, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine (Knopf).

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Emily Bernard. Here it is, in her words:  

I tell my creative writing students that the best villains are born in ambivalence. A good rule of thumb is to let the reader love a villain first, before you condemn them. If a character is wholly loathsome, we readers might ask why you are asking us to spend so much time with them, or why you allowed them inside in the first place? For this writing prompt, choose someone who treated you unkindly from your past or your present and write about them, focusing on the one thing—a skill, quirk, personality trait, etc.-- that makes them lovable.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with Canadian Author Douglas Glover. We discussed his book of craft essays, Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis).

Early in his essay collection, Doug Glover asserts this about point of view in fiction:

Point of view is the mental modus operandi of the person who is telling or experiencing the story--most often this is the protagonist. This mental modus operandi is located in a fairly simple construct involving desire, significant history and language overlay. The writer generally tries to announce the desire, goal or need of the primary character as quickly as possible. the key here is to make this desire concrete and simple. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to look at the point of view in what you are working on and ask yourself: is this character’s desire clear? Is it concrete and simple? Do I introduce it quickly enough? How might I improve on the early presentation of my point of view character?

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Cheryl Suchors, author of 48 Peaks - Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains (SheWrites).

This week's Write the Book Prompt is actually three prompts, generously suggested by my guest, Cheryl Suchors. Begin with one of these statements or questions, and then write:

  • “I’d never consider hiking, or wearing these ridiculous hot, heavy boots, except that ...”
  • “You’re on a mountain that you’ve never hiked before. You’re by yourself. You’re suddenly remembering stories of women who’ve been attacked while alone in the woods, or maybe you’re making these up, you’re actually not quite sure if they’re true. You hear something or someone thrashing through the forest. It sounds like they’re coming your way. What do you do next?”
  • “Your grief is so profound that you haven’t left the house in two weeks. You know you have to do something about yourself. You decide to...”    

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

 

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Guest Host Kim MacQueen speaks with Nik Sharma, the writer, photographer, and recipe developer behind the critically acclaimed blog, A Brown TableHis cookbook Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, is just out. (Chronicle Books)

A quote from Nik Sharma that works well as another Write the Book Prompt this week: "I always write from my heart. I either want to share a personal story, or a story about an ingredient or a food so that people connect with it. ... I think it's okay to be vulnerable when you write."

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author and cartoonist Tim Kreider, whose new collection is I Wrote This Book Because I Love You: Essays (Simon & Schuster).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Tim Kreider. When he offers prompts to his students, he tries to keep them broad so that the students can write about what they want to write about. Here is one that he has offered to spark their ideas: Write on the theme: “That’s how they get you.”

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author Will Dowd, whose debut essay collection is  Areas of Fog (Etruscan Press). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Will Dowd, who suggests you begin writing about the weather, let your mind free-associate, and see where the winds take you!

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Essayist Fiona Helmsley, author of Girls Gone Old (We Heard You Like Books).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about something you’re ashamed of, or not proud of. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Just write. Write on paper with a pen or pencil, if you don’t trust doing it on your computer. Tell yourself you can destroy it after, if you feel the need. See what happens. Maybe being honest about your shameful moment will help you push past something. Or maybe you’ll decide it wasn’t so shameful after all, and you can shape it into something you might be proud of.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A series of excerpts of past Write the Book Interviews with guests who have had some association with the Vermont Book Award, which will again be presented this Saturday, 9/23/17, at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

Missing from these excerpts are two related authors: Thomas Christopher Greene, president of VCFA, which founded the award, and Tanya Lee Stone, one of this year's judges. I simply didn't have time to excerpt all of the interviews I wanted to! But listen to their full interviews by clicking the links on their names. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week! 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Award-winning and best-selling author Jonathan Lethem with his new essay collection, More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers (Melville House).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by our guest, Jonathan Lethem. Writers are often encouraged to go out and eavesdrop in cafes and other places where people gather, in order to write down what they overhear and learn how dialogue works. Lethem suggests that we go out to watch people, but not so close that you can actually hear their conversations. Observe them talking to one another, and through interpreting gesture, expression, and attitude, write what you think they MAY be saying to each other.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

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Author Robin Romm, who has edited the new essay collection Double Bind: Women on Ambition (Liveright). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by our guest, Robin Romm, who teaches at Warren Wilson’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program. One thing she says she loves to do as a writer is--at the end of a day--to write lists of very specific sensory things that she ran across that day. So perhaps a shirt, a clip of dialogue, a person’s face, in no particular order. Not feelings or facts, but colors, sounds, smells, dialogue. So the texture of the couch, or the way the cat looked lying in the sun, or something the mailman said as he waited for you to sign for a package. Having these lists leads to other things in interesting ways and gets you thinking like a writer. Robin says that these snippets will help to get rid of abstract worry and thought and help to focus on scene building.  The sensory and the concrete almost always lead you into more interesting material in a way that intellect almost never does.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont author Jericho Parms, whose essay collection, Lost Wax, was published last fall by University of Georgia Press

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Jericho Parms. This prompt speaks to the process she sometimes used while writing the essays in Lost Wax. She calls it FINDING PROSE (OR POETRY) IN PAINTING:

  • Look at a painting (or sculpture, or image) and free write, in list or sentence form, everything you see. Be as specific and detailed as you can. No observation is too acute or obtuse. Think about color, texture, composition, form. Use your senses. Seek words to match the tone, the textures, the style.
  • Continuing your meditation, allow your thoughts and imagination to roam freely and beyond the canvas. Note any external images or memories that come to mind as you observe the artwork. Seek associations. What are you reminded of? When have you felt this before? What or who (when or where) do you find yourself thinking of/grappling with/curious about?

So that’s Jericho’s prompt for you this week. I’d add one other idea, which is to try your hand at a contour drawing of the painting you study, in much the same way that Jericho drew some of the works that inspired her in writing Lost Wax. The exercise would be to draw some representation of the piece in a single go, without ever raising your pencil. On the cover of Jericho's book, you can see the kind of outcome that such an exercise might inspire.

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Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Marc Estrin and Donna Bister, founders of Vermont's Fomite Press, "a literary press whose authors and artists explore the human condition -- political, cultural, personal and historical -- in poetry and prose."

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Donna Bister. Write about your first pair of shoes. Or, if you can't remember them, write about your favorite shoes. 

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another!

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).


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Posted in WritingPoliticsActivismCreative NonfictionMeditationNonfictionEnvironment,FoodNatureHistoryMemoirFarmingEssaysHealthgardening on Mar 15th, 2012

Vermont writer Tovar Cerulli, author of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance, published by Pegasus Books.

Tovar Cerulli's website bio describes him as having had an "outdoorsy" boyhood. This week's Write The Book Prompt is to write about an outdoorsy experience. 

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another!

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Vermont author Angela Palm, whose new book, Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here, received the 2014 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize (Graywolf Press, Aug. 2016). Palm is the editor of a book featuring work by Vermont writers, called Please Do Not Remove (Wind Ridge Books, 2014). She has taught creative writing at Champlain College, New England Young Writers' Conference, The Writers' Barn, and The Renegade Writers' Collective. She is a recipient of a Bread Loaf Fellowship in nonfiction. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider the geography of your own life, and write about it, either directly, or allow a more subtle aspect of place into a piece that concerns another subject. As you work, perhaps consider these words from the late author Judith Kitchen: “Let your conversation get away from you. Let a new story take over. Something may happen along the way, something to alert you to its relevance.” (Judith Kitchen, "The Art of Digression.")

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.


Music credits1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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A new interview with Abby Frucht, co-author with Vermont writer Laurie Alberts of A Well Made Bed (Red Hen Press). 


This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Abby Frucht. She recommends considering an "invented collaboration." Write the first page of a story or the first set of pages of a novel. Choose a favorite author whose work you respect, who you feel you can learn from. Then pretend you've asked that author to write the next page (or equivalent number of pages) of your new project. Write their part, keeping in mind what you admire about their work, and see what results. Abby says this gives you license to choose an author from whom you feel you can learn. 


Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.


Music credits1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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A new interview with Sydney Lea, who has just finished his term as Vermont's Poet Laureate. His new books are No Doubt the Nameless (Four Way Books) and What's the Story? Reflections on a Life Grown Long (Green Writers Press).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by my new interview with Sydney Lea. Write about a dream, or the memory of a dream, or the almost memory of a dream.

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) Dreaming 1 - John Fink; 2) Filter - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Two interviews this week. First, Lorin Stein, Editor of The Paris Review. Their new collection is called The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review, published by Penguin. My second interview is with Vanessa Blakeslee, author of the novel, Juventud, published by Curbside Splendor.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was inspired by my conversation with Lorin Stein, during which we discussed the repeated word, “there,” in the story “The Dark and Winding Road,” by Ottessa Moshfegh, in The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review. Often, writers are told to steer clear of repeating words in close succession in their prose, and yet this story absolutely benefits from the author’s intentional repetition. To my mind, it’s intention that makes the difference. Words that are repeated by accident are unlikely to do much other than bump the reader out of the prose. But words that are chosen and placed carefully in succession to highlight something a writer wants to draw attention to--these can be useful and beautiful. Former WTB guest Priscilla Long writes in her book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor: “Good writers delight in repeating good words.” She later adds, “If you have trained yourself not to repeat, learning to do the opposite takes practice and it takes developing your ear.” The word “there” in Ottessa Moshfegh’s story becomes a good word--the right word--by the author’s intention. She uses it to highlight the importance of the setting, which lies at the end of a dark and winding road, but I think also to highlight the otherness--the “there”--of the narrator’s present state of mind. This week’s prompt, then, is to use word repetition in a way that will accentuate something intentionally. Practice reading the result out loud, to be sure the music is just right. 
Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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National Book Critics Circle Award winner and author of “the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the twenty-first century” (Salon), Eula Biss, whose book On Immunity: An Inoculation has come out in paperback (Graywolf Press). 

I have a new Write The Book Prompt for you, an exercise suggested by my guest, Eula Biss, who learned it long ago at an AWP panel. She doesn’t recall whose idea it was, and so can not credit the person, though she’d like to, because she uses it both as a writer and as a teacher:

Write a scene or moment from a “bright spot” in your memory. It isn’t necessary to understand why you’re writing about it; you don’t have to know why it’s important or why you remember it, but write from this bright spot: this moment that rises quickly and easily to the surface. Then read over what you’ve written--a paragraph or a page, whatever you have written. Then, without looking it over again, write it again using a different tense. Eula has noticed that different verb tenses will draw out different material. Often she will compose in the present tense, because it draws out richer detail, and then--if it makes the most sense--revise into another tense, like the past, later. 

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Critically acclaimed and bestselling author Julianna Baggott, whose new novel is Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders (Little Brown).

This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Julianna Baggott, who encourages her students to use “visualization” to move forward in narrative. She suggests that her students close their eyes for each. They can take notes in between each. Here are a few examples she offered, from which you can work. Either now, if you’re all set up to do so, or later, listen to these with your eyes closed, and try to visualize what’s happening, but missing, from each prompt:

  • A Man walks out of a house* He’s dressed very strangely* He walks to a car* Opens the trunk, looks inside* reaches in*
  • A woman is running, scared – where* She runs out of breath, falls to her knees. She hears a * looks up and sees*
  • A man is sitting on a park bench. By his clothes, we assume he works as a _________ . A woman sits next to him and says something that makes no sense to us but means a lot to him, “ -------------“
  • A woman is standing in a flooded basement – things float and are soaked around her* -- she finds a footlocker, wades over to it – reaches inside to find * 
  • A boy in pajamas is outside* -- alone. He hears * but ignores it and keeps heading toward a *
Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Interview from the archives with Ecologist and educator Amy Seidl, author of Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World and Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming.


This week's Write the Book Prompt concerns caring for the earth. Write about one step you have taken toward this guardianship. Then write about a next step you hope to take.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Interview from the archives with Wendy Call, writer, editor, translator and teacher. Author of No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy.

In fact, this week's live broadcast was with Vermont author Tammy Flanders Hetrick. But due to a strange set of circumstances, her podcast has been up for a couple weeks already. You can find it here

Public shaming has been in the news a lot lately. Even before the internet, shame and disgrace could be widespread and malignant. Just read The Scarlet Letter. This week's Write the Book Prompt is to write about a person who has been disgraced. Consider the reason for the disgrace. Has this person done something truly despicable? Or did he or she simply get caught looking foolish? Is the shaming mean-spirited, or does it come from a supposedly kind place. That "tough love" philosophy, for example. Does it get out of hand? How? Why? Why do crowds like a good public shaming? Are there larger lessons that can be conveyed subtly by writing about a person in this situation? 

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).


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Write the Book's 351st episode (!) introduces Shelagh's new co-host, Gary Lee Miller, in an interview with Vermont author Sean Prentiss about his new book, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, published by University of New Mexico Press.


Sean Prentiss generously shared two Write the Book Prompts with Gary during their interview. The first is this: 

Find a piece of writing you love. Study it. What is the tone? What is the shape on the page? What is the title? How much dialogue is used? How are characters developed? What is the theme? Once you’ve studied the piece, then try to emulate it.  Write your own piece that mirrors or learns from the piece you love. Allow yourself to follow the original, but also to meander where you need. 

The second prompt for this week focuses on beginning and endings. If you have a draft of an essay, story or poem that you like but find yourself stuck with the beginning or ending, go ahead and add a second beginning or ending. Just tack it right on. Maybe start or end your piece with an overt idea, or start or end your piece with a scene that moves us to some new place or time. Or start with a powerful metaphoric image. This can be just the kind of writing play you need to get you where you want to go. 

Good luck with these exercises, and listen next week for another.

Music credits: I Could Write a Book by the Boston-based band, Possum.


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2011 interview from the archives with Seattle-based writer and teacher Priscilla Long. We discussed her wonderful book and writing resource, The Writer's Portable Mentor.


This week's Write the Book Prompt is to consider the word mentor. Have you ever had a mentor? Have you ever been a mentor to someone else? What have those relationships provided for you and the other person? Are you still in touch? Is the coaching/education/guidance ongoing, or was the mentorship a temporary situation? If you're no longer in touch, do you miss that other person? If you were the mentor, what did you get out of offering guidance to another? Consider all of these questions, and write.
Good luck with this exercise, and listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students. 



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Author, editor, educator, and translator Wendy Call

This week’s Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Wendy Call, who says it was inspired by the portion of our interview about translation. It’s an exercise in homophonic translation -- that is to say, translation based on sound – actual, assumed, or imagined – of poetry written in other languages.

First: Find a stanza of poetry written in a language you do not know.

Second: Look at the words carefully and imagine how they sound when spoken aloud. Link those sounds to English words. Try sounding out each line verbally, until English words occur to you. Focus on SOUND, not known or imagined meaning. Feel free to take liberties and be nonsensical.

Here's an example, of a stanza of poetry written by Irma Pineda in Isthmus Zapotec, a language spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The Original reads:

Nuu dxi rizaaca

ranaxhi tobi ca yáaga ca'

Wendy’s English version reads:

New dixie rise AKA

Ran an exit to bike yoga,  ‘kay?

Third: Take your "found" English stanza and revise it into a new poem.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students, now alums). 

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Vermont author Eric Zencey, in a conversation about his novel, Panama (Farrar Straus Giroux), and his nonfiction books, The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy (UPNE), and Greening Vermont - The Search for a Sustainable State (Vermont Natural Resources Council/Thistle Hill Publications), co-authored by Elizabeth Courtney.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Eric Zencey. It concerns noise and noise pollution. Based on a theater exercise that he’s been interested in turning into a writing prompt, this week’s exercise is to lie down, shut your eyes, maybe dim the lights, and then listen to and remember every sound you hear for a set amount of time. Maybe five minutes. Maybe ten. You decide. After that time is up, take notes about what you recall, and use the noises you were able to identify in your work.

Good luck with this prompt and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students, now alums).

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2010 Interview with Canadian author Douglas Glover, founder of the fantastic website, Numero Cinq.

Today's Write the Book Prompt is to write a paragraph about a character who finds a photograph on the street and comes to some sort of realization or new understanding.

Good luck with this exercise and please tune in next week for another!

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2010 interview with Unitarian minister and author Gary Kowalski. We spoke about his book Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers. In 2013, I interviewed the reverend Kowalski a second time, about his book, Goodbye Friend.


Today's Write the Book Prompt is to consider the following quote, and then free write: 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn." 

Anne Frank

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Interviews with Vermont author Chris Bohjalian, whose new book is Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; and Sue William Silverman, whose new memoir is The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo Saxon Jew.

 
Today’s Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my second guest on today’s show, Sue William Silverman. (In our last interview, Sue and I discussed her book on craft: Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir, which has a lot of excellent exercises.) Sue says one interesting exercise can be to  get a photograph of yourself from another period in your life, such as when you were a kid, and write one paragraph that describes what you see in the photograph. Then write another paragraph about what was happening outside the frame of the photograph. For example, Sue looks at a lot of photographs of herself as a kid, in which she is smiling and looks really happy. Nobody would know she was "dying inside" at that time in her life. So she might write the first paragraph about the pretty young girl who is beaming from ear to ear. But then she might write a second paragraph about what's not taking place in the picture, which for Sue might be to write about growing up in this incestuous family—that maybe her father even took the photograph, so maybe he is forcing her to smile, to convey the idea that theirs was a happy family. Sue says this can be an interesting exercise in comparing and contrasting what else might be going on. You have a picture, great; but is it telling the truth? Or is there another truth that's happening outside the frame? 

Good luck with this prompt and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students, now alums). 

 

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Write the Book's 300th (!) episode features an interview with Philip Graham, author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney's dispatches from Lisbon. He is also the co-author (with his wife, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb) of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and Braided Worlds. Dzanc Books will reprint The Art of the Knock, Interior Design, and How to Read an Unwritten Language as ebooks this summer.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is inspired by the interview you heard today with the author Philip Graham. We spoke about the appearance of objects in written work. As Philip mentioned, his 1979 short story, “Light Bulbs,” chronicled how a couple coping with the “empty nest” grew to form relationships with the light bulbs in their home, almost as a substitute for their absent children. This week, as you work, consider the objects that show up in your work. In particular, pay attention to those objects that already exist there. Try to understand what they might be doing for your story, and how your appreciation of their existence might deepen what you’re writing.

Good luck with this prompt and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students, now alums). 

 

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Vermont writer Jessica Hendry Nelson, author of the memoir If Only You People Could Follow Directions, and co-founder of the Renegade Writers' Collective.


This week’s  Write The Book Prompt was recommended by my guest, Jessica Hendry Nelson. “Write a letter of apology of which you don’t mean a word.”

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another. 

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students. 


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Award-winning author Ann Patchett, named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2012, whose latest book is This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage, published by Harper. Ann Patchett is co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.

This week’s Write The Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Ann Patchett. Write something about one of your parents or grandparents, or an older person that you’ve known all your life, who is important to you. This person can be dead or alive. Write a scene that encapsulates his or her personality. Not an obituary, although it might be a sort of spiritual encapsulation of who this person is or was. But convey that without giving the facts of the person’s life.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits:  1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (which was a Vermont band in 2008, featuring several South Burlington High School students, now grads.)

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Interviews highlighting three local groups that are making the Burlington area writing community much richer: The Burlington Writers' Workshop (Peter Biello), The Renegade Writers' Collective (Angela Palm and Jessica Hendry Nelson), and The Writers' Barn (Lin Stone and Daniel Lusk).

Today I have two Write The Book Prompts. The first is to write about two interactions between lifelong friends: the first time they meet, and the last time they meet. Limit each scene to a page, but try to intimate a whole friendship into those two pages, letting us know who these people are, how they eventually influence each other, how important they become in each other's lives.

Today's second prompt was suggested by my guest, the poet Daniel Lusk. It's a prompt he used recently in the poetry group at the Writers Barn: Write a poem with a red dress in it.
Good luck with these exercises and please listen next week for another.


Music credits
: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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Poet Jenny Mary Brown, Editor-in-Chief of New South, Georgia State University’s journal of art and literature.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jenny Mary Brown. It's a prompt that was, in turn, suggested to her by her friend, the poet Christine Swint.

Choose a poem by one of the great old poets and type it into your computer. After you've typed it, go line by line and respond with your own original line. Delete the old poem's lines as you go. This is a useful process to learn someone's rhythms. Christine did it once with one of Roethke's greenhouse poems, one where he is on top of the greenhouse. Her poem ended up being about looking down at something from a great height.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea, whose tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is now available from Four Way Books. Skyhorse Publishing has just published A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. This interview is also available to watch, thanks to production by RETN, the Regional Educational Technology Network in Burlington, VT.


Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write a poem that involves a recollection of an old friend, and a reaction to the natural world.
Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.


Music credits
: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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2013 Interview with the writer Abby Frucht, whose collection of stories, The Bell at the End of a Rope, is new from Narrative Library.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was mentioned by my guest, Abby Frucht, during our interview. You may recall that when we spoke, she said that she will ask new students to read the opening line or lines of a story, and then to use those lines to "project the objects, events, circumstances, characters, techniques, perspectives ... structural inclinations, anything that will take place over the course of the story." So today's prompt is to do this. Read the opening lines of a story - not one of your own, of course - and make a list of these story elements for which you might see the opening lines laying the groundwork. Then put down your list of gleaned ideas, read the full story, and see how the piece of fiction emerges from those early sentences. Don't look at this as a test of your ability to predict the story, but to understand how that author uses the early sentences to lead the reader into the story. In our interview, Abby said that the first lines have both the responsibility and the privilege of that introduction -- they lay down the clues about how the rest of the story might be drawn.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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Author and teacher Lawrence Sutin, who publishes books in multiple genres including biography, memoir, history and the novel. At the time we spoke, in December 2009, his latest was When To Go into the Water, published by Sarabande Books.

Today’s Write The Book Prompt is inspired by something I found on Lawrence Sutin’s website - a project he calls Erasure Books. He works with “old, sturdy” texts, and erases or crosses out most of the original text in an attempt to find something unexpected and alive. He also erases image, and creates collage out of images in new texts. You can find a more detailed explanation, with examples, on his website.

This week, your prompt is to take a discarded piece of your own work, something you didn’t like or use for whatever reason, and practice erasure to salvage something pleasing or worthwhile or new. Here’s an example, using the opening paragraph of a story I never did anything with:

  1. Billy liked to watch the rainbow puddles form on the cracked slopes of the garage floor. So many cars dripped oil through here, and puddles formed, swirling with color when the temperature rose above freezing. It was almost spring, so he didn't need the heat on inside the booth anymore. In the winter, he sometimes slipped off his boots and rubbed his woolen feet over the small heater's scalding surface. But now it was warmer out, almost spring. The metal box remained on the floor, and once summer came, he'd flip a switch and turn it into a fan. It was off today, though.
  2. Billy liked rainbow puddles on cracked swirling color. Freezing inside the booth. In the winter, boots rubbed the scalding surface. Once summer, turn today.

So I’m pretty sure I need to keep going - playing with these erasures - but that’s an interesting start to something different. Maybe a poem, or maybe a new way to present Billy’s world, by erasing some extraneous words to turn the paragraph on its side and see it differently.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a former Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School graduates).

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For the last Monday in Autism Awareness Month, an interview from the archives with Glen Finland, author of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, which concerns the parenting of an autistic son as he approaches adulthood.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by statistics that I found on the website autism-society.org. That group has been recording a Fact of the Day each day this month. One such fact involved the incidence of ASDs (or autism spectrum disorders) through the decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Before 1990: 1 in 2,000 children were found to have some form of autism.
  • Mid 1990s: 1 in 500
  • Mid 2000s: 1 in 150
  • 2009: 1 in 110, or about 1% of children, have an ASD
  • 2012: 1 in 88

This week, consider these numbers, and write about autism. Write about someone you know whose life has been affected, or write about your own theory about how these numbers have changed. Write about your own experience with an ASD. Or whatever else might come to you.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a former Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School graduates).

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Best-selling author of fiction, essays and memoir, Anne Lamott. We discussed Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son.

Following the interview with Anne Lamott, a partial rebroadcast from 2008, with the poet David Budbill.

As we continue to enjoy National Poetry Month, this week's Write The Book Prompt is another poetry exercise. It's inspired by the work of my first guest, Anne Lamott, whose book, Some Assembly Required, has to do with becoming a grandparent. So this week, write a poem about grandparents. Being a grandparent, having a grandparent, or whatever else this prompt might inspire for you.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a former Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School graduates).

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The Reverend Gary Kowalski, author of bestselling books on animals, nature, history and spirituality. We discuss two of his latest: Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet and Blessings of the Animals.

During the interview, Gary recited the poem, The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry. Unfortunately, due to licensing concerns, I can't air Gary's recitation. But you can find the poem here.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by advice that Gary Kowalski offers in his book, Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet. This is a quote from the book:

I usually counsel those who are grieving to employ the power of words by writing a eulogy for the one they love. The term itself means "good words," for a eulogy attempts to sum up the qualities that made another person memorable and worthy of our care. In the case of an animal, a eulogy could take the form of a letter, a poem, or a memoir that reflects on the traits that made that creature most endearing or stamped it with a special personality.

This week's prompt, then, is to write a eulogy. It can be in remembrance of a pet, or of a person. It can even be a fictional or poetic eulogy for a character you're writing about, an historical figure, someone you never met. After you've written it, follow Gary's advice and read it aloud. Particularly if you've written a eulogy for a person or creature you're truly grieving, reading the words aloud may help you more than you'd imagine.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a former Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School graduates).

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This week's show has two parts. First, an interview with Mohsin Hamid, author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, published by Riverhead. And then a smorgasbord of interviews with journal editors with whom I spoke at the AWP Conference in Boston. I asked what they were looking for in submissions, or what news they had to share with writers. These are the journals whose booths I visited. You can visit their websites by clicking on any one: Hunger Mountain, Redivider, Agni, Hotel Amerika, Columbia Poetry Review, Story South, Cave Wall, Ninth Letter, The Mom EggAdanna Literary Journal, Sonora ReviewSolstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, Mid-American Review, Rathalla Review, Philadelphia Stories, Ploughshares, The Sun, Green Mountains Review, Memorious, New England Review, Florida Review, Barnstorm Literary Journal, The Cincinnati ReviewThe Baltimore Review, The Saint Ann's Review, iO, Triquarterly, The Missouri Review, and Upstreet.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write a story, poem, or essay in the second person.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

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An interview from the archives with  Scott Russell Sanders, author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A Conservationist Manifesto and Earth Works, his latest, published in 2012 by Indiana University Press. This show originally ran in two parts, but here is available as a single podcast lasting almost an hour and a half.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is inspired by a writing conference I went to at the end of last week and over the weekend: AWP 2013, which took place in Boston. AWP stands for Associated Writing Programs. In the time I've been going to the meeting, every couple years for the past ten years or so, attendance has exploded. This year they had some 11,000 writers show up. That's a lot of writers, and they need a LOT of space. So there's crowd control to think about, and which panels and workshops and readings are of most interest to you, social concerns, like What-again-is-the-name-of-that-guy-who's-walking-over-here-and-where-do-I-know-him-from? There will be dietary concerns, like do you have time to stand in that long line for a cup of coffee and a cookie, and if you do, will you not be able to get a seat in the How-I-got-my-book- reviewed-by-Oprah panel? There's the issue of having to sit for long periods of time on maybe not the most comfortable seats. But then there are the great things: seeing old friends, learning new things, returning home energized to write! So this week's prompt is to write a poem, a story, an essay or a personal narrative about some experience you've either had or can imagine having at a conference. It can be any kind of conference or meeting or reunion - whatever inspires you to write.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

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Local writer and public radio commentator Bill Mares, author most recently of 3:14 and Out and Brewing Change. Bill's wife, Chris Hadsel, whom he mentioned a few times during our interview, is the founder and director of Curtains Without Borders, a conservation project dedicated to documenting and preserving historic painted scenery. This week's Write The Book Prompt is to write a commentary. Choose a subject that interests you, decide what it is you want to say about that subject, and write 500 words about it. Edit the piece for concision, and read it aloud to see if it would translate well to radio. If you like it, submit it to a local station. Or submit it to Write The Book! Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another. Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a former Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School graduates)

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